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Psychological and psychophysiological mechanisms of self-mutilative behaviour/


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Brain, Kerryn (1998) Psychological and psychophysiological mechanisms of self-mutilative behaviour/. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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The aim of this investigation was to clarify the processes that
maintain self-mutilation in a sample of participants from the general
community (n = 46). Specifically, 3 comparisons were conducted for
each study.
Firstly, results obtained for male and female self-mutilation
participants were compared. The self-mutilative behaviour of males
and females traditionally has been considered to substantially differ,
although this notion has not been empirically verified. The present
investigation aimed to clarify this issue. Secondly, results from individuals who were currently
engaging in the behaviour were compared with a recovered selfmutilation
group. Self-mutilation has been considered to be a
behaviour that is extremely difficult to treat. It was anticipated that
identification of factors associated with the cessation of selfmutilation
would determine appropriate targets for treatment.
Thirdly, aspects of self-mutilation for participants who had
frequently engaged in the behaviour were compared with those who
had infrequently self-mutilated. Although it has been accepted to be
a habitual behaviour, research regarding the factors that contribute to
the development of repetitive self-mutilation has been limited. The
present investigation aimed to clarify the factors associated with the
development of a repetitive pattern of self-mutilation. Where appropriate, comparisons between self-mutilation and
non-self-mutilation groups were made. Five studies were conducted. Initially, details regarding this sample's self-mutilative
behaviour were determined via structured interview. The nature
and extent of self-mutilation described by the present sample was
consistent with previous reports indicating the generalisability of
subsequent results. The self-mutilative behaviour of male and
female and current and recovered participants was comparable.
Secondly, a range of psychometric measures were used to
investigate the symptomatology associated with self-mutilation.
Self-mutilation participants evidenced greater symptomatology than
control participants. Limited sex differences were demonstrated. As
expected, symptom severity and psychological distress were
associated with repetitive self-mutilation. No significant differences
between current and recovered self-mutilation participants were
demonstrated for type or degree of symptoms presently experienced.
However, the recovered group were significantly less distressed
regarding the presence of symptoms. Results indicated that selfmutilation
is not mediated by symptom severity alone. Investigation
of behavioural motivation and the specific processes associated with
the self-mutilative act were required in order to clarify the factors
that maintain self-mutilation. Using a self-report measure, the third study investigated
motivations for self-mutilation. Tension reduction was the primary
motive reported for engaging in the behaviour. In particular,
motivations for infrequent self-mutilation were not well defined. Results indicated that tension reduction associated with selfmutilation
was maintaining the behaviour.
The fourth study investigated the specific tension reduction
aspects of self-mutilation. Psychophysiological and psychological
responses to self-mutilation were assessed using guided imagery
depicting the self-mutilative act presented in stages (Haines,
Williams, Brain & Wilson, 1995). Results demonstrated that selfmutilation
is an effective tension reducing mechanism. For those
who were currently engaging in the behaviour, imagery depicting the
act triggered an immediate reduction in psychophysiological arousal
and unpleasant feelings. However, the recovered group interpreted
self-mutilation as psychologically distressing even though a
significant psychophysiological arousal reduction was evident with
commission of the act. No significant differences in the strength of
psychophysiological arousal reduction associated with selfmutilation
were evident between frequent and infrequent selfmutilation
groups, however the psychological benefits of the act for
the infrequent group were limited. These results indicated that
factors other than tension reduction maintain the behaviour.
Using a self-report measure developed by the author, the final
study investigated whether cognitive rehearsal of self-mutilation
contributed to the performance of the behaviour. Results indicated
that individuals do engage in cognitive rehearsal of self-mutilation
and that this rehearsal contributes to the maintenance of selfmutilative
behaviour. In summary, results of this investigation have contributed to
the understanding of the complex nature of the precipitants of selfmutilation.
These results also have indicated that the purpose of the
behaviour itself is quite straightforward. Implications of results for
the management of self-mutilation are discussed and directions for
future research are suggested.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Self-mutilation, Self-mutilation
Copyright Holders: The Author
Additional Information:

Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 1998. Includes bibliographical references

Date Deposited: 25 Nov 2014 00:48
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:55
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